New York inmates on the run for days face high odds of capture

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The two escaped inmates from a New York maximum security prison have far outlasted the typical jailbreak period, according to experts and corrections data, as state and federal authorities were hunting them for the fifth straight day on Wednesday.

Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, over the weekend, cutting through steel walls, squeezing through a steam pipe and popping out of a manhole.

Such elaborate escape schemes require equally detailed plans for fleeing the surrounding area and living life under the radar. That is where most fugitives fall short.

"They invest a lot of time and effort in planning their escape," said Martin Horn, a former prison official in New York City and Pennsylvania who now lectures at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

"They don't think through what they'll do when they get out."

In other New York state prison escapes, freedom lasted less than six hours for 60 per cent of the 30 inmates who succeeded in fleeing in the last decade, according to data from the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The longest escape lasted just three days.

"When you escape, not only do you need the essentials like clothing, food and shelter, but you need some sort of long-term plan where your identity will be hidden," said researcher Bryce Peterson, who focuses on inmates and prisons for the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.

International publicity surrounding the upstate New York prison break, including photographs and physical descriptions of the tattooed men, make it extremely difficult for them to remain in the shadows, he said.

"The only way you could do that successfully is having people on the outside who will help you," Peterson said.

"But the more people you associate with on the outside, the more likely you are to get caught."

Matt, who has a history of escape attempts from other lockups, was serving a sentence of 25 years to life. Sweat was serving a life sentence. Both were convicted of murder.

Nationwide, the number of prison escapes has dropped sharply, from 100 inmates per 10,000 in the 1980s to one per 10,000 today, Peterson said.

He cited several reasons for the drop, including fewer furloughs that present less opportunity to flee, more secure housing and more effective technologies for detecting escape, like motion sensors and surveillance systems.

Once caught, Matt and Sweat will each face a criminal charge of escape, which can carry a seven-year prison term, Horn said. "Seven more years means nothing to a lifer," Horn said.

While there are newer, more secure prisons in New York, he said, authorities faced with holding inmates who have already escaped one of the nation's most impregnable facilities might consider the controversial policy of solitary confinement.

"It may be there are some people for whom it is necessary," Horn said.